ISO 9001: Understanding the New Agency Certification

By Catherine Theilen Burke

Translators are hired based on their knowledge and mastery of language. Part of NCTA’s mission is to provide information and professional development opportunities for translators. The following article reviews how ISO 9001 standards affect translators, and how translators can position themselves to offer their services to agencies having received ISO 9001 certification.

The ISO 9001 standards originally represented the efforts of 148 countries to agree to norms in regards to the production and manufacture of technical products. Although translation is regarded as a service, a process of certification has nevertheless been developed and implemented to verify the integrity of an agency’s internal processes, thereby allowing clients of ISO 9001-certified companies to enjoy an increased level of confidence in the services—high-quality, accurate translations—they obtain.

The ISO 9001 standards are updated from the ISO 9000 standards to reflect a more modern understanding of quality and current business practices. These new standards differ from the originals in several important ways. First, the role of the client in the relationship is expanded, incorporating from the very beginning the client’s needs and wishes. Communication is emphasized between agency administration and personnel. Staff training is a critical component; everyone must have access to information. And all steps of a project—and the people handling each step—are accessible.

ISO 9001 also requires an agency to have implemented sophisticated, accessible project management software systems that include all relevant information about a translator, such as technical expertise and area specialties. In addition, a business with 9001 certification must also demonstrate ongoing progress toward process improvement through feedback from staff, clients, and vendors.

For translators, ISO 9001 mandates a formal hiring process that includes such steps as applications, tests, and reviews. An agency must change from a subjective model of intuition to an objective list of requirements. The translator becomes a vendor, whose work is now one step in a series of procedures toward the end product of a quality translation. A file for each translator is established by the agency, containing documentation of that individual’s credentials and qualifications—data that ISO 9001 inspectors would verify during the agency certification process.

It is important to note that ISO certification is not just a stamp of approval; by encouraging agencies to comply with established best business practices, the process is designed to help organizations improve productivity and efficiency, which in turn results in a host of benefits including lowered costs (work doesn’t have to be redone as frequently) and therefore higher profits, access to new markets, and, ultimately, attractiveness to customers—some of whom are even beginning to request certification.

The process of certification for an agency is not without cost, however, in terms of both time and money. The application process is very elaborate, and involves literally adding a bureaucratic layer to an organization, including dedicated staff to manage all administrative matters pertaining to the application process, to audit and review all procedures for developing products, and to create all systems of review. This represents a substantial investment in personnel and resources for a small agency.

What’s more, any insufficiencies revealed in the audit must be corrected before the application can go to the next step in the process of certification. For example, the editing process is described in detail: Who is responsible? At what level? How is fact checking, proofreading, and formatting performed? How is each step reviewed and checked?

Because of some or all of these considerations, not all translation agencies believe certification is worth the investment involved, including those agencies that know they produce quality translations with their current systems and processes, and have excellent reputations. What’s more, fear of revealing practices that required large investments over the course of time can also deter some organizations from seeking certification; these agencies tend to regard their work methods as proprietary, and require anyone working at the agency to sign a confidentiality agreement to not disclose the systems and processes used.

For agencies, the need for certification is still an open question: a balance of the investment vs. the marketing opportunity that the endorsement implies. For freelance translators marketing themselves to ISO-certified agencies, an understanding of the standards and requirements can be useful, in terms of a knowledge of the process and a willingness to be tested. And once a translator has worked for such agencies, satisfactory performance may be used as an endorsement in applications to other agencies.

ISO certification is an annual process, so translators can be assured that the agency has made a commitment of striving to meet high quality control standards. The agency will have in place methods of reviewing work, a designated editing process, and opportunity for feedback—all of which is always a good sign for a translator.

For further reading:
http//www.iso.org — The official website of the ISO.
http//www.the 9001store/intro-to-ISO-9001 & http//www.isoeasy.org — Commercial websites selling products that aid in understanding the standards.

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